Rebellious Practices: The Subtle Simplicity of Stand-Ups
In our blog series Rebellious Practices we share insights into powerful tools and practices to make work more fun. In our first episode we talked about Open-Book Management, this second episode we discuss another simple yet powerful practice called stand-ups.
It was during our visit to Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor that we witnessed the stand-up ritual for the first time. We arrived at Menlo in the morning and saw circa 50 people passing around a Viking helmet in one big circle. In less than 15 minutes, everyone in the organization is up to speed. Say goodbye to those boring status meetings that everyone hates.
The power of simplicity
Stand-ups are nowadays widely and commonly practiced in the agile development world as a quick ritual to get everyone up to speed, as it typically takes only about 15 minutes to complete. Stand-up meetings are meant to increase engagement, team spirit, transparency and productivity by replacing boring and dreadful status update meetings with short and to-the-point updates.
At Menlo we witnessed the simplicity and power of how the stand-up ritual can help to solve problems instantly. An employee mentioned that she was struggling with a difficult Fast Fourier transform math issue and asked if anyone could help her out. A colleague responded instantly. Her husband turned out to be a math Professor at the University of Michigan and loves to solve difficult math issues for fun. She promised to pass on the issue to her husband and in this way the problem was easily and quickly resolved.
How to do it?
- Cancel all the boring ‘status meetings’ in which always the same people talk about the same subjects for way too long.
- Create an activity board to visualize what’s going on in your team. (Place the activity board on the wall at the location where you will hold the stand-ups)
- Pick a daily time and location for the stand-up to take place.
- Every day, take a maximum of 15 minutes to have everyone in the team answer the following questions: What did I accomplish yesterday? What will I do today? What do I need help with?
- Be rebellious and find your own way to create the ultimate stand-up.
Fellow Rebel Freek discusses his stand-up experience
Both in project teams and in line organization teams I facilitate stand-up meetings. In my case, always combined with a brown paper and post-its to visualize the tasks we are talking about (it won't be long before they start calling me Mister Post-It). What strikes me most is the willingness of people to help each other out when the goal is to get all those tasks done. I see people having fun while all the tasks move to 'done' during the stand-ups. It's great to see the energy kick in. The energy drain I experience the most: stand ups that take too long! Keep it short, experiment and have fun!
- It's important to take turns in facilitating the stand-ups. Don't have the same person to always take control of the daily ritual. This might turn into undesired and unnecessary hierarchy, decreased engagement and a lack of self-management within the team.
- Be sure to keep the stand-up short and to the point. If people want to further discuss thing, great! But save it for after the meeting and do this in person.
- Stand-ups are an ideal opportunity to share your knowledge. Ideally they should be open for all your colleagues and even for visitors. Although they cannot participate and are there to listen only.
- Make things visible. Try to visualize what you and your team are working on as much as possible. Need tips? Use brown-paper, post-its, paint. Be creative!
- Be rebellious! Don't listen to us too closely. Experiment, fail, succeed, and discover your own ideal stand-up meeting. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, and use this blog post mainly as a source of inspiration. There's no success (and fun!) in following the rules too closely.
- Don't turn the stand-up into a 'reporting to the leader session' or 'status update for management'. Get managers to be part of the team by participating just like everyone else.
- Don't think too much about engineering the ideal stand-up meeting before you start the daily ritual. Just start experimenting and learn and adjust along the way. Over time you and your team will turn the daily ritual into the perfect stand-up meeting!
- Don't wait for everyone to be there. Always start the stand-up at the set time. Every time. You might want to play the first 10 seconds of Ludacris' song to get everyone to the 'stand up'. We advice you to keep it strictly to the first 10 seconds ;) !
During one of our workshops we shared the practice of stand-ups with the group. They felt that this practice could help them to achieve a few benefits, namely: more transparency on what everyone is working on, more alignment within the team, and the end of the boring weekly status meeting on Monday morning. After practicing stand-ups for a few weeks and adjusting the stand-up ritual to their needs, they have started enjoying the benefits they were looking for. They are still experimenting and improving their stand-up as they believe there are ways to make it even more powerful in the future.
Try and fail, but don't fail to try
Do you feel a stand-up might help you and your team to improve the way you work and create a more engaged workplace? Give it a try and let us know how it goes in the comments below. If you need any other tips or if you encounter any obstacles, we're happy to help you out. Good luck and enjoy the experimenting!
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I’d long read articles and books concerning progressive organisations with a quiet envy. Envious and also slightly mystified as to how these businesses actually made it happen - when did the opportunity for such a significant change ever appear. All these transformative, adaptive, downright off-the-wall ways to revolutionise the way we do business - they all read well, really well - but I couldn’t get my head around how to take those first few radical steps.